Sports Mole provides team news, predicted lineups and a full preview of the Champions League quarter-final second leg between Juventus and Ajax.
Juve are no strangers to the latter stages of the Champions League, aiming to reach the semi-finals for the third time in the last five seasons.
Massimiliano Allegri‘s men, beaten finalists in 2015 and 2017, will consider last week’s draw at the Johan Cruijff ArenA a positive result thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s away goal.
Ronaldo was signed from Real Madrid for exactly these occasions, seen as the man to end Juve’s 23-year wait for continental success.
After scoring three goals in the last round to single handily dump out old foes Atletico Madrid, followed up by his stunning diving header in Amsterdam, the Portuguese superstar remains on course for a sixth Champions League crown.
The tie may be finely poised after 90 minutes, but the away goal does ensure that it is advantage Juventus.
The reverse match was just the third time they have drawn the first leg of a Champions League knockout match away from home, previously progressing against Rosenborg in the 1996-97 quarter-final and suffering elimination at the hands of Manchester United in the 1998-99 semi-final.
However, Allegri’s side have lost two of their last five European home games, as many as they had in their previous 45 in Turin in the competition.
In Ronaldo, though, Juventus really do have the difference maker they have lacked in previous years.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner, who has managed his playing time with these big European nights in mind, has scored in his last five Champions League games against Ajax, netting eight goals in total. Ronaldo has also scored 51% of his total goals in the competition in the knockout stages (64/125).
A Ronaldo-less Juventus suffered just a second league defeat of the season on Saturday as they squandered a one-goal lead to lose 2-1 at lowly SPAL. Making nine changes from the first leg against Ajax, Juve’s fringe players failed to pass their audition and the Italian giants’ title wait will go on for at least another week.
It remains a case of when, rather than if, the Bianconeri will claim an eighth Scudetto in a row. Their season, possibly the last of the Allegri era, will ultimately be determined by how they fare in the Champions League. Tuesday’s showdown with Ajax, then, is the biggest game of their campaign.
Recent form in Champions League: LWLLWD
Recent form (all competitions): LWWWDL
The task facing Ajax may be huge, but they have been here before. Just six weeks ago, in fact, when trailing Real Madrid 2-1 from a first leg that saw them hard done by.
Written off by pretty much everyone, the Dutch giants produced what will go down as one of the great European Cup performances to knock out the three-in-a-row champions, earning a 4-1 win at the Bernabeu to send shockwaves across the continent.
Erik ten Hag will not be fazed that his side need to score at least once at the Allianz Stadium, then, with his men – or kids – also holding their own in their two group-stage matches with another heavyweight in Bayern Munich.
With another Golden Generation of players emerging, Ajax have become the first side in Europe’s top five leagues to break the 100-goal barrier this season and they also have a Dutch Cup final against Willem II on the horizon. As unlikely as it seemed last summer, they are on course for a famous treble.
Not since 1997 have the Amsterdam outfit reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, and not since 2005 has a Dutch side done so when PSV defied the odds.
Ajax have also been eliminated on two of the three previous occasions they have drawn the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie at home, but that Madrid result last month proves nothing is certain.
Winners in 10 of their last 12 matches in all competitions, including five of their last six away from home, Ten Hag and his players are riding the crest of a wave that they will hope carries them right the way through to the final on June 1.
Recent form in Champions League: DWDLWD
Recent form (all competitions): LWWWDW
The hosts do have some injury issues to contend with, though, as Giorgio Chiellini, Martin Caceres, Emre Can and Douglas Costa are all considered doubtful, as is Matuidi after limping out of the first leg.
Paulo Dybala was poor against SPAL and is almost certain to drop down to the bench, meanwhile, with Allegri likely to revert back to the side that started the match in Amsterdam.
Should the Barcelona-bound midfielder miss out, Kasper Dolberg is the favourite to take over.
Dusan Tadic has been directly involved in 53% of Ajax’s 17 Champions League goals this season (six goals, three assists).
Juventus possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Cancelo, Bonucci, Rugani, Sandro; Bentancur, Pjanic, Matuidi; Bernardeschi, Mandzukic, Ronaldo
Ajax possible starting lineup:
Onana; Veltman, De Ligt, Blind, Sinkgraven; De Jong, Schone; Ziyech, Van de Beek, Neres; Tadic.
Head To Head
Juventus are unbeaten in their last 10 meetings with Ajax in all competitions – the joint-longest such run for one side against another in European matches, along with Bayern Munich vs. Benfica.
The last time the Dutch side got the better of the Bianconeri was back in 1973, when they lifted the European Cup in Belgrade.
After a run of seven defeats in eight games against Italian opposition, the visitors are unbeaten in their last four such fixtures, winning half of those.
We say: Juventus 2-1 Ajax (3-2 on agg)
Ajax should not be written off on the back of their incredible win at the Bernabeu. Despite having momentum on their side, though, they do not boast a player with the game-changing abilities of Ronaldo. That, quite simply, could well be the difference between the sides over the two legs.